Fatal Queens fire raises concern about illegal apartment subdivisions

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A fatal Queens fire has put the often controversial issue of illegal apartment conversions at the forefront of residents’ minds once again as community officials, tenants and landlords wonder whether the deaths of three men this past Saturday could have been prevented had they not been living behind an obstructed basement door. The 65th Street home in Woodside was on a block where residents said it was well known that many houses had extra, illegal rooms in their basements. The house that burned, number 42-40, was inspected twice after the Department of Buildings received complaints in 1990 and 2004, but no violations were found, a spokesperson said, but when firefighters got to the home on Saturday, they were unable to reach the victims in time due to the illegal subdivision. Eight similarly illegal rooms were discovered at the house next door after the fire and were evacuated. There are an estimated 100,000 illegally converted units in the city, according to housing advocates, 48,000 of which exist in Queens. [NYT]

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